Hoo boy, now here’s a comic I could have probably skipped. And nobody — nobody — would have minded. I know some people say that about Darkhawk and the New Warriors and all that, but those books have followers. They generate The Book Closet hits every day, partly because not everyone on their dog are reviewing them. Also: I loved them growing up. But somehow, I have serious doubts that anyone looks back fondly with rose-tinted glasses at Mephisto Vs. But who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. Argue in the comments, if you so choose.
Okay, let’s see if I can set this up: it was the late ’80s at Marvel Comics. That should be a big tip-off right there, because at the time they were pretty much throwing anything at the wall to see what stuck. Everybody got their own mini-series around this time Beast and Dazzler got a mini-series together, to see if two characters that didn’t work in their own series would work together to make a good one. I guess it works mathematically, a negative times a negative does equal a positive after all.So around this time (and leading up to it) we got Secret Wars, X-Men vs Avengers, X-Men vs. Fantastic Four, all these crazy-concept cool team-up battle titles that fanboys at the time never thought they’d see. And they existed outside the monthly titles, meaning that fans from all corners represented bought in, in addition to their regular monthly offerings, and may have cross-pollinated to become fans of the other material. it was a marketing gold-mine. But after basically fighting God in the form of The Beyonder in Secret Wars, where do you go from there?
How about… the Devil?
And so we get Mephisto Vs, four separate-but-linked stories in which Mephisto, the literal Marvel Universe Devil, matches wits with the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, X-Factor, and the X-Men.
You’ll notice Spider-Man wasn’t in the mix there. They probably thought that would just be too ridiculous. Oh for these simpler times. Marvel really should repackage this with One More Day and call it the Mephisto Vs Director’s Cut or something.
I’m not sure what doesn’t work about this book. It might be the fractured nature of the storyline (ie: switching between teams) but I think it’s more that Mephisto doesn’t work as an antagonist when presented in this way. He’s the Devil. He should be scary. Actually, he should embody scary, being the source of all things scary.
Part of the problem is that the rules by which Mephisto operates are never made clear here, or really anywhere. He’s patterned after the Christian Devil in everything-but-name sure, but Marvel has never been religiously-overt enough to state the presence of a Christian Deity. So it lacks this opposite force, this thing that keeps the Devil in check. Take the first part: Mephisto drags the Fantastic Four to Hell and tells them he’ll only release them if they surrender the body — and soul — of Franklin Richards.
What forces Mephisto to honor his deal? If he can just summon them to Hell anytime he wants, why does he need their permission to take Franklin? Or if he does need it for some reason, what’s to stop him from not holding up his end of the bargain? Or sending them back only to drag them right back down again, in a “I didn’t say how long I would let you go for” moment? These questions are never answered.
This goes back to basic storytelling. For there to be tension and stakes in a story, the rules that that story exists in has to be clear, so that the reader will understand what is at stake. Not having a set of rules regarding Mephisto makes it impossible to get invested in this way. There are no rules, and ergo there are no stakes.
Mephisto continues his quest for souls — powerful souls at that, opting for Jean Grey, Rachael Summers, and Thor — through each of the issues, and we learn that the reason he’s been doing all this is he is at war with Hela, the Asgardian keeper of Hel.
Not to nit-pick, but crossing over into Asgardian mytholody seems like it would have been an excellent opportunity to involve The New Mutants, given Danielle Moonstar’s relationship with Asgard in general and Hela in particular. It’s a major missed opportunity, but perhaps it’s for the better that that good storyline stayed far, far away from this one.
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
“One More Day” should have been included in this trade as “Mephisto vs Spider-Man” 😛